Updated: Jul 22, 2018
10. Emmaneul Roudolff-Levisse, Portland (JR)
There are a variety of reasons why Portland was successful last fall. Jeff Thies and Nick Hauger had breakout seasons, Matt Welch transferred from Minnesota, and their depth began to materialize in the final few scoring spots. Despite the exciting developments within the team, the recruitment of Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse is what truly helped the Pilots get on the podium.
We wouldn't see Portland's newest weapon until the Wisconsin Invite where he shocked the nation with a monster 11th place finish. We wouldn't see the Frenchman again until the West Regional Championships where he continued to impress. Roudolff-Levisse hit the gas and dominated the entire field to eventually take the title.
ERL's final race of the season would arguably be his best as he went on to place 11th at the NCAA Championships and lead the Pilots in the team scoring.
I really like what Roudolff-Levisse accomplished last season. He had never raced in the NCAA before and still walked away with a title in one of the most competitive regions in the nation. His composed front-running racing style is a rare strength to have amongst collegiate distance runners. Don't sleep on the Portland senior this fall.
9. Alfred Chelanga, Alabama (SR)
*See #5 & #6
8. Amon Kemboi, Campbell (SO)
Kemboi entered the Campbell program in the winter after the 2017 season. Despite great success on the track, many fans were still unsure of what to expect from Amon Kemboi. It was clear that he was talented, but his youth made him a big question mark.
Of course, none of that fazed Kemboi last season and he put to rest any skepticism. Kemboi secured the win at Panorama Farms over All-Americans like teammate Lawrence Kipkoech and Virginia's Brent Demarest. He later followed that up with a bronze medal finish at Pre-Nats, losing only to Peter Seufer and Rory Linkletter.
We continued to see even more success from Kemboi in the postseason. He defeated Kipkoech and Liberty's Azaria Kirwa at the BIG South Championships and settled for 2nd at the Southeast Regional Championships.
After such impressive performances leading up to Nationals, it was hard to imagine that Kemboi wouldn't deliver on the big stage. Unfortunately, the young Camel fell off the fast pace and had to settle for an All-American finish of 29th.
His finish at NCAA's was strong, but his regular season performances showed that he was capable of more. In 2018, Kemboi will continue to fend off his teammate Lawrence Kipkoech and conference rival Azaria Kirwa. Expect more of the same from Kemboi this fall, along with a better NCAA finish.
7. Rory Linkletter, BYU (SR)
Over the past few seasons, Rory Linkletter has slowly become BYU's reliable ace. Ever since his silver medal finish in 2017 NCAA 10k, Linkletter has developed an edge that his competitors just can't seem to match.
Linkletter's 2017 season was an exciting one. After a runner-up finish at the Dellinger Invite, the Cougars took their talents to Pre-Nats where they absolutely dominated. Not only did they win the team title, but Linkletter secured the individual title as well by out running guys like Peter Seufer and Amon Kemboi.
After cruising through the West Coast Conference Championships, Linkletter took to the Mountain region where he placed 2nd overall behind Colorado's Joe Klecker. It was clear that Linkletter had something big in store for NCAA's, but fate had other plans. The BYU junior would still finish as an All-American (39th), but it was clear that this wasn't the full extent of his fitness.
The 2018 season will be a revenge tour for Linkletter who will be eyeing a much higher finish at NCAA's. With team and individual title hopes on the line, Linkletter could motivated to have the best seasons of his career.
6. Vincent Kiprop, Alabama (SR)
5. Gilbert Kigen, Alabama (SR)
When someone says "the Alabama trio" and people know exactly who you're talking about, then clearly you're doing something right. The Crimson Tide completely changed the landscape of the South region when they were able to secure three star transfers in Chelanga, Kigen, and Kiprop last summer. Collectively they have put together one of the most lethal top three's that the NCAA has ever(?) seen.
The first true test of 2017 for the Alabama Crimson Tri (see what I did there?) would begin at the Notre Dame Invite. There were high expectations for this group, but no one expected them to pull off a clean sweep over Joe Klecker and the rest of the field.
We continued to see impressive pack-running from Alabama's top three at the Crimson Classic. This time, Jacob Choge would get the best of the trio and force them to settle for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. Luckily, the Alabama men would get their rematch at the South Regional Championships. Kigen and Chelanga would take the top two spots while Kiprop finished in 4th behind Choge.
After a dominant regular and postseason, Alabama was focused on making a statement at Nationals. Sure enough, Gilbert Kigen placed 4th overall while Kiprop was close behind in 7th. Chelanga would still finish as an All-American (37th), but it was clear that he should've been closer to the top 10.
When these three run together, they are extremely difficult to beat. Their aggressive front-running tactics forces their competitors to have their best day and to maximize their fitness. The Choge-Alabama rivalry will be one of the key matchups that will help determine the direction of these rankings throughout this season.
4. Morgan McDonald, Wisconsin (Rs. SR)
Remember this guy? After redshirting 2017 cross country, 2018 indoors, and only racing once during 2018 outdoors, we are finally ready to see the full extent of McDonald's fitness.
His lack of results over the past year makes McDonald an interesting selection at the number four spot. However, his 7th place finish at the ultra-competitive 2016 NCAA Cross Country Championships shows that he is just as good as anyone else. It also doesn't hurt that he ran a 13:15 5k last summer while competing in Australia.
With Cheserek, Tiernan, and Knight now out of the picture, McDonald will have fewer obstacles between him and a national title. His quest for a gold medal should be one of the more intriguing storylines of the 2018 cross country season.
3. Grant Fisher, Stanford (SR)
The young star who broke four minutes in high school is now all grown up and considered a veteran around the NCAA. Fisher already has a national title to his name, but a championship win during cross country would further establish him as one of the best distance runners in Stanford history (if he's not already).
Fisher's success during the 2017 season came as no surprise. His first race of the season was the Wisconsin Invite where he matched up against Justyn Knight and the NAU men. Fisher's finishing kick was enough to drop the Lumberjack men, but Knight pulled away for the win. At PAC 12's, Fisher made up for his 2nd place finish at Wisconsin by comfortably taking the conference title over Joe Klecker.
After essentially tempoing the West regional and placing 11th, all eyes were on Fisher as he entered the NCAA Championships. Sporadic surges and crowded field got the best of many experienced collegiates, but Fisher played it smart. His conservative approach may not have put him in the hunt to win, but it did secure him a safe 5th place finish. From a team scoring perspective, Fisher did everything right.
The team title will still be on Stanford's mind as they enter the 2018 season, especially with them returning three of their All-Americans from last year. Still, it's not far-fetched to suggest that Fisher wants to take home the win this year instead of 5th place. He's beaten the NAU duo once and he can certainly do it again.
2. Tyler Day, Northern Arizona (JR)
1. Matthew Baxter, Northern Arizona (SR)
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the NAU duo of Baxter and Day headline the rankings. Together, these two were the best 1-2 punch in the NCAA last year and they will be once again in 2018. Their success at NCAA's and dominance throughout the entirety of the previous academic year was enough to give them the nod for the top two spots in our Top 50.
After shaking off the summer rust at the George Kyte Invite, the Lumberjacks toed the line at the Louisville Classic where they crushed their competition. Baxter and Day took the top two spots while teammates Andy Trouard and Geordie Beamish were their closest competition in 3rd and 4th. At the Wisconsin Invite, the NAU duo continued to battle at the front of the pack. Knight, Fisher, and Trouard would take the top three spots, but Day and Baxter were not far behind in 4th and 5th.
With the regular season behind them, Day and Baxter would continue to thrive in the postseason. They cruised through the BIG Sky Championships and quietly made their way through the Mountain region by placing 3rd (Day) and 5th (Baxter). It was clear that NAU was saving up for the Big Dance...
Sure enough, Baxter and Day unleashed everything they had at NCAA's. They pushed the pace early on and easily dropped the most talented distance runners in the nation. Although Knight would walk away with the win, taking 2nd and 3rd made Baxter and Day the undeniable favorites for the title in 2018.
In cross country, nothing is guaranteed. On any given day, someone can have a breakout performance or struggle to perform. With that in mind, NAU has the chance to not only win the team title, but the individual title as well.